Ladies and gentlemen, you heard it here first: the zero draft/summary draft of my current (and only real) novel project is finished! I don’t know if I’ve ever actually explained my method of madness on novel writing, which is–in large part, and to be perfectly fair–because I have yet to actually follow a novel project through from beginning seed stages to the full-flowering end. The main reason for this is due to the creative time consumed by an endless project that will likely never see the light of day: that first impressionable novel attempt, which–over the course of ten years tried to contain every single aspect, theme, and idea I cared about, and under the weight of that pressure–collapsed in a heap of unmanageable cast lists, tangled nests of plot-lines and sub-plot-lines, the warping growth of world-perspective which occurred for me between the ages of  14-24, a stinking heap of deeply-set cliches due to having created the world and the idea behind the novel before I’d read much more SF than ENDER’S GAME, and a whole slew of other problems, buried in hundreds of thousands of words of beginner prose.

Needless to say, it’s been nice to work on something else for a change. And-! Nice also to see moderate progress after only a few months. My current path toward a finished novel involves a trick I actually used during that bog of a novel from before, but which–due to the theme/idea/world constraints already in place that disallowed growth–couldn’t be used before.

I write summaries. Detailed summaries. I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but so far, it’s really loosened me up and allowed me to explore ideas in ways I haven’t been able to since I was in elementary school. I don’t worry about prose, I don’t worry about whether or not I used “to be” verbs all the time, or start every sentence with “And then…” All this draft is, really, is a detailed telling of the story, the way I would explain it to a friend, or a family member, or some random old lady at a bus-stop (if she were silly enough to actually ask “Oh! What are you working on now?”).

Tense doesn’t matter. Gaps don’t matter. Dialogue is summarized, if included in any detail. It’s all about plot and info-revealing. When does this happen? How does it work? When does So-And-So realize this? What will So-And-So do once she knows? Some chapters are long, and break down everything to the minute punch-by-punch of a fight scene. Some are only a sentence or two long, and say only [So-And-So needs to realize that her father’s letter was mailed after his death.], or something less specific, like [So-And-So has a moment when she realizes that she loves Guy X.].

What I’ve found this does for me, is that it allows me to explore a world and a flow of events without getting bogged down by the nitty gritty, falling in love with a prose section/character/plot device without knowing a little more what the overall picture is supposed to be. Some would consider that a rough draft, but I specifically want to keep my summary draft and my first rough draft separate, otherwise I might feel like I need to save something (anything) from the summary draft. I don’t. When it comes to prose-time, I’ll read over the summary chapter, put it away, and write the section without it. The prose draft will be different. Things will change, characters will be added, ideas will be explored in ways I didn’t see coming, and that’s all fine. The summary draft isn’t carved in stone. It’s a loosely sketched map, with some places more firmly outlined than others. The summary draft just helps me to gauge plot, main characters/players, and get a gist of the themes I might like to explore. Sometimes the summary of a chapter may help me by taking away the urgency of getting words–any words–down on the page. It allows me to approach each section with a fresh breath, and allows me to take my time, go slow, think about what I’m doing. If I hate a section? Rewrite it. But the big picture is already roughly in mind.

So today I finished–on schedule! O.O–the summary draft for my current novel project. After sitting untouched for September, I’ll come back to it with fresh eyes, and fix the plot problems I know are there. By the end of October, I should be good to go on the prose draft, and then it’s just a matter of words on the page. It’s kind of like laying a foundation before building, so you don’t have to tear down stuff you should have known wouldn’t stand up on its own. It also gives me an idea of what I need to learn more about, what areas to target for research, what cliches are trying to slip in so I can re-conceptualize the story in my head before solidifying it in a rough draft.

For some, that may be taking the wind out of the sails of a story. For me, it’s putting wind into them, setting a course by some well-defined stars, and going where I want to go, rather than just hoping I end up where I want to be. There’s something to be said about just letting go and running with it; I think each story is different and requires a different approach. For this novel, it needs a careful outline to guide me. There are just too many ways it could go wonky. :-)

Success, for once! And now, onto some short stories that didn’t get finished in July. ^_^

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